It’s a gorgeous blue-skied Saturday. The branch-tips of the trees along the sidewalk where Jack and I walk after our jaunt to the bakery are turning yellow and red and pink as they get ready to unfurl their leaves in the coming months.

We hear the familiar rat-tat-tat of a woodpecker and examine all the power poles we pass until we find it. We stand and watch, our heads tilted to the sky, as it drills into the wood at the top of the pole.

“How would you describe the sound a woodpecker makes?” I ask Jack.

He thinks a moment. “A stuttering staple gun.”

“I thought of a drum,” I say, “that steady staccato sound it makes.”

“Yeah, or a saw really slowly cutting through finger wood.”

I have no idea what finger wood is, so I ask him. It takes the rest of the walk home for him to explain it and for me to realize he’s talking about tongue-in-groove boards.

That night, I take the words of our conversation and turn them into a poem of sorts.

What a Woodpecker Sounds Like

a stuttering staple gun
a steady staccato drumbeat
the teeth of a saw slowly slicing timber


A few days later, when we’re walking home from the park, we hear the woodpecker again, staccato stuttering on a pole. We stop to listen, and I remember my little poem. I recite it for Jack. He grins.

The woodpecker stops drilling, so we start walking again, trying to see where he’s gone. When we finally spot him, he’s sitting in the bare branches of a tree behind a blue house, and he’s singing.

We stand and watch him trilling his heart out, his dark head lifted to the egg-shell blue of the sky, his pale orange throat bared to the world. Between each bar of his song, he stops to preen and ruffle his feathers. I glimpse orange—or perhaps red—when he fluffs up his wings.

Jack says, “He’s trying to find a mate.”

“Yes,” I say.

“He must be done drilling his hole. He wants a female to come lay an egg in it.”

“Yes,” I say again and realize he’s probably right. How does he know this stuff?

He laughs. “What if a woodpecker drilled a hole in a redwood tree and made the biggest nest ever? And then what if he found a pile of coins on the ground and he drilled little holes in the walls of his nest and embedded a coin in each hole?”

“Well,” I say, “that would be a really shiny nest.”

“Yeah, with all those pennies and nickels and quarters in the walls.” He laughs again. “Then it wouldn’t be a bunch of males fighting over who gets to marry the female. It would be all the females fighting to marry the male! Because that would be the best nest ever, and all the girl birds would want to live in it and lay their eggs there.”

I laugh with him at the thought of a lady woodpecker happily roosting in her coin-encrusted nest.

I think of the staple gun, the drum, the slowly slicing saw, and the flash of red on the underside of the woodpecker’s wing when he ruffled up his feathers between the measures of his song.